Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sandra Harris & The Minefield of Critiquing

Please welcome Sandra Harris to the blog today! Her book Alien, Mine is out and about and it's a fun story! I loved the unique twists and turns of the plot & the blend of science fiction & romance. Sandrea is an awesome character!

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The Minefield of Critiquing – Should I Give a Critique?
How do you tell someone their work sucks?

You don’t.
EVER.

OK, so you don’t like the characters in the ms you’re critiquing. Tell the author that you don’t connect with their hero/heroine. Say why. e.g. actions don’t equate with words, thoughts or emotions (the character says one thing, their behaviour reflects the opposite). Perhaps they're acting in a way contrary to what the situation demands. Or they’ve done something that really turned you off. I read one story recently where the hero kicked at a bird with no provocation except it landed before him as he walked along a street. Well that action lost me completely. I started hoping a real hero would come along and give him a thrashing.

In ‘Alien, Mine’ I had a rather invasive operation performed on the heroine (for the better) without her permission and she just accepted it. My fabulous CP pointed out that that would not be the case—especially after what she had so recently endured. This was an instance of me getting on with the story and not paying enough attention to each and every detail. My bad. My lazy bad.

You also need to be aware of what genre your CP is writing. There are certain standards that must be met for each form of work.

Keep an eye open for practical mistakes such as:
v  Driving on the correct/wrong side of the road in whatever country the book may be set.
v  That technology/syntax/mannerisms are current for the era.
v  That a hurricane is a hurricane and not a cyclone.
v  That a piece of equipment is capable of performing as described. (e.g. A Vespa really can't do 200kph without some serious tinkering or outside influence)

Be alert for continuity. If a character is sitting relaxed in a chair, make sure they don’t suddenly appear in the next room without explanation. Or they were married and suddenly they’re single. Or they loose a foot in height over a few chapters. Or change species. Or that your impressively muscled, hotter than sin hero doesn’t morph into a sultry, curvaceous, buxom redhead—at least not without a darn good explanation. J

Be conscious you don't push your CP to imitate your writing. I often find the easiest way to get my point across is to provide an example. My CP is well aware that this is my way of illustrating a point and I am not telling her it should be written this way.

Using 'Track Changes' and 'Comments' is an excellent way to keep note of your suggestions/comments. Try not to be too blunt when making comments (though I have to admit that this is a fault of mine). My CP and I live over 500 kilometres apart, so when critiquing we cheat—we Skype and have an online meeting so we each can explain our comments. J

Keep in mind that all rules are not cast in stone. Australian Romantic Suspense author and 2011/2012 R*by winner, Helene Young has often quoted Douglas Bader "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men". Having said that, you should point out any overuse or inappropriate use of 'broken' rules such as passive voice.

In conclusion, having a CP is not for everyone.

On the other hand having a CP can be one of the most beneficial things you could ever do for your writing. It has been for me. :)

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Giveaway of kindle copy of Alien, Mine to one commenter.

THE BLUTHEN HAVE ONE CONSUMING PASSION: THEMSELVES. IN THEIR EXPANSION ACROSS THE GALAXY, THEY WILL GO TO ANY LENGTHS TO DOMINATE SPECIES THEY ENCOUNTER.
Torn from modern day Earth and stranded on the far side of the Galaxy, Sandrea Fairbairn must use every particle of courage she possesses to adjust to her new life and live for tomorrow/a new day.

Eugen Mhartak, a general in the Tri-Race Alliance Army, refuses to bow to the merciless Bluthen. Haunted by the loss of far too many innocent lives he has vowed to drive the ruthless invaders from Alliance space.

The strength and valour of Eugen Mhartak attracts Sandrea as no man ever has, but she struggles to read the enigmatic general’s heart. Determined to help him triumph over the Bluthen she uncovers a diabolical plot against the Alliance.

Drawn by the courage and exotic beauty of Sandrea, Mhartak battles to overcome the barriers of cross-cultural differences that separate them and claim her ardent interest. He must conquer his deepest fears to be the man she needs. When his principles are betrayed by his own government and he is faced with the impossible prospect of taking Sandrea’s life in order to save his home planet, Mhartak desperately searches for a way to keep safe both his world and the magnificent woman who has stolen his heart.

Buy Links: SoulMate Publishing        Amazon      Amazon UK
Sandra Harris on the web: Website    Facebook   Twitter   Author Page
Born in the far north of Australia, yearly cyclones, floods and being cut off from civilization for weeks at a time were the norm. An outrageous imagination helped occupy Sandra’s mind.

An abiding interest in astronomy and a deep-seated need to always see the good guys win naturally influences her writing. Not satisfied with the amount of romance in science fiction novels she set out to redress the balance.

She currently lives in sunny South East Queensland, Australia, with her husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who doesn’t seem to realize she comes from royalty and should act in a more appropriate manner.

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So, how do you feel about critiquing? I love my crit buddies and am so glad we've learned to trust each other enough to give honest crits that are always balanced!

71 comments:

  1. Critiquing another teaches us so much about our own work.
    And I have the most awesome critique partners!

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  2. Alex beat me to it, but I'll say it, too--I've learned so much about my own writing from critiquing others. And I absolutely agree, there's never any reason to be a tool when giving a critique.

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  3. Alex - me too! I've learned so much from critiques!

    Jeff - agreed! We can see so much when critiquing that helps us become better writers :)

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  4. I enjoyed this post, I'm still nervous about giving any critique so it helped a lot.
    I can see the benefit of having a CP, but as yet I'm on my own. Perhaps that'll be my next step.

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  5. Having CPs is soooo important! Great tips, and yes you have to be careful how you put things. I always worry about that. Thankfully I have my trusted peeps. ;D

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  6. Heather - it is scary to give that 1st crit! It gets easier quickly though! CPs are worth their weight in gold and more - have you tried Agent Query - great place!

    Lisa - agreed! Having people you can trust makes it a whole lot easier! :)

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  7. Great post. I so agree that we have to be tactful in our critiques and not try to mold the story/writing to how we'd do it. With constructive suggestions, most writing problems can be solved. I love having a CP.

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  8. CPs are important to me but I did have to learn when to take their advice, and when not to. But honestly, almost all their advice is good!

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  9. Natalie - agreed! It's a skill to learn to work with the other person's style and voice!

    Lydia - me too! We're obviously very lucky that way! :)

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  10. Hi Jemi, Hello Sandra!

    Great post regarding CPs and critiquing.

    We always have to bear in mind about letting author's keeping their 'voice' while critiquing their work.

    Nas

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  11. Nas - critiquing is tough and Sandras's points are excellent!

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  12. Hi, Alex. You are so right. :) When we get used to keeping an eye out for 'problems' in someone else's ms, we tend to apply the same technique to our own.

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  13. Good luck with finding a great CP, Heather and good luck with your writing.

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  14. Hi, Lisa, glad you're doing well with your 'peeps'. LOL, I love that word! :)

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  15. Hi, Natalie, I have to admit, my CP doesn't always tell me what I want to know, but she ALWAYS tells me what I NEED to know. :)

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  16. An excellent point, Lydia, you choose what to use and how to apply it to your story.

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  17. That certainly sounds like a delicate juggle, Nas, but I'm sure a great skill to have. I'm envious. :)

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  18. Thank you for hosting me, Jemi, it's been great! *waving from across the Pacific* :D

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  19. Hi Sandy! :) It's been a lot of fun having you here!! *waving back* :)

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  20. Great post. I got some great tips. Thank you xx

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  21. Glad you can take away something from it, Michelle. :)

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  22. I'm a member of a crit group which gives us the chance to check on each other's reactions and responses and works really well for our group. I've never done one-to-one critiquing.

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  23. It so important to never say that the work is "bad" or use any synonym related to that. I sometimes come across a CP who is harsh, and they rub the group the wrong way naturally. CP's should pinpoint the problems and give suggestions.

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  24. Michelle - Sandy's got some great ideas, doesn't she? :)

    Rosalind - I've never been part of a crit group like that! I've never talked with anyone in RL about writing!

    Medeia - agreed! There's never any need to be mean!

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  25. Wonderful post. You put it so beautifully - the key to being a good critique partner is to want to help the other person be a better writer. It's never going to work if one of you is in it to put the other person down. It's a partnership with one goal in mind: write the best story possible.

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  26. What a great post! So much of the advice in the post is helpful to hear and be reminded of from time to time. A CP has a lot to do and look out for- and those fresh eyes are so helpful. It can be hard to see mistakes when we are too close to our work or characters but having someone else point things out to us can help us see the light. Also, as a CP it is more helpful to say things in a way the other person can use because you haven't gotten them upset (as you mentioned about ways to word not liking a character).

    Thanks SO much for sharing this!

    Wishing Sandy the best of luck.

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  27. Julie - exactly - and to allow each to grow within their own style!

    Jess - I agree - Sandly's got some awesome tips! Being a crit buddy is a big job! :)

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  28. That's an interesting concept, Rosalind and sounds like a great environment in which to give and receive critiques . The closest I've ever come to something like that is with my local writing group.

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  29. Yes, us writers are fragile enough creatures, Medeia, without someone being harsh with us.

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  30. Thank you, Julie, and you make a good point. As a CP you have to want to help make your partner a success.

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  31. Ah yes, fresh eyes, DMS, you are so right! :)

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  32. Hi Jemi and Barbara

    If you choose not to have a CP you'd have to make sure you used an editor or two then. A CP can be so helpful and there's no expectation that you'll abide by every suggestion. I've been caught using CPs who write in different genres who criticise something that is expected in my genre. Also, the different cultures/different countries is something we discussed at our writer's group this week.

    Looking forward to hosting you on Monday, Barbara.

    Denise

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  33. Great advice. Since writers are artists we tend to have some real soft spots. I'm lucky to have CP's that call me on my boo boos with love.

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  34. Denise - so true! One of my crit buddies is from the US and that really helps me with a lot of those little details!

    Leslie - that's a perfect way of describing it!!! :)

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  35. I wish I was the critique partner of those personae that wrote TWILIGHT, HUNGER GAMES and TRUE BLOOD :) I'd have had no problem telling them their work sucks big time :)

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  36. Dezzy - too funny! I loved the Hunger Games books but I'm assuming you mean the movie versions here! I'm sure you wouldn't hold back :)

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  37. no, I mean the book version, dear :) As a psychologist and a professor I'm deeply disgusted by YA books which irresponsibly and dangerously put kids and teens in violent situations or portray them as warriors, killers, assassins ETC. And for an even bigger shock, that crap is usually written by mothers :(((

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  38. Dezzy - Oops! I didn't realize True Blood had a book version & I never did read/see it or Twilight. That's a very good point! There is far too much violence in our societies as is. I battle that every day with the kids in my class. They assume violence is a regular part of life & entertainment and getting them to realize differently can be quite a challenge. Teaching them to enjoy entertainment without violence is quite an eye opener for some of them!

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  39. Crikey, I got so involved in what you and Dezzy were talking about Jemi that I've positively forgotten what 'I' was going to say!

    Oh yes, excellent post! Sandra talks much sense!

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  40. Wendy - LOL - Dezzy brings up a really good point! We have to be more away as a society of what exactly is influencing our kids. :)

    And, yes, Sandra's post is awesome!

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  41. It can certainly be a tricky path to follow, Denise.

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  42. LOL, Leslie, I love your terminology! And I so relate. :)

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  43. You raise and interesting point, Dez and one we should all keep in our critiquing toolbox.

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  44. A great post.
    I've also read that you can have a CP who writes in your genre and one who writes in a different genre, who could offer a totally different and fresh perspective on the story.
    Thanks ladies!
    Writer In Transit

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  45. Michelle - that's a good point! My crit buddies both write romance but different styles of romance so I think we're lucky :)

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  46. That's why it helps to have a CP who writes the same genre.

    And you don't ever just say it sucks because none of us is such a perfect writer that we are qualified to say that. The person who would say that is the one with a problem.

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  47. Hi, Michelle, thank you. :) My CP writes in a similar, but different genre and I also use Beta readers who don't write at all. They look at the story from a completely different perspective.

    Of course you don't have to limit yourself to one CP.

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  48. Hi, L. Diane, I think it also helps to know what audience at which you're targeting your book and letting your CP know that. Then, hopefully, they can critique with that perception in mind.

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  49. Diane - so true! Having a CP who understands the demand of the genre is important :)

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  50. A great post, thanks for sharing Jemi and Sandra!

    Congrats on the release of Alien, Mine Sandra.

    All the best Jemi!

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  51. Thanks Nas! I hope lots of people take a peek at Sandra's book - it's a good one! :)

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  52. Thank you, Nas, and thank you, Jemi! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :D

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  53. Hi Jemi, hi Sandra,

    Giving critiques is something you get better at as time goes on....

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  54. Maria - so true! I've gotten much better at spotting things for my partners! :)

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  55. Some excellent suggestions in this post. I love my critique partners and I think we've all learned so much from each other.
    Since I started writing fiction one of the most important things I've learned is that writing is rewriting and that other writers can help so much on that journey.

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  56. Tricia - so true! I'm just starting re-rewriting a story and I think (hope!!!) I've got a handle on the real story now! :)

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  57. My editor is.my first.CP as he does the initial read through. Then I have three to five CPs for.the final feed back. So far no one has said I suck.

    I'm doing a couple reviews for people before they released. Fortunately they are well written and edited. I have had to tell a few people I.could not finish their book because it was in desperate need of an editor. But I let them down as easily and gracefully as possible.

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  58. Stephen - LOL - I'm sure no one will say that either! I haven't been in the position of saying that to anyone either - hope I never am!!

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  59. My partners never let me slide. They don't let me down either. It's because of them I've published 3 books. I couldn't have done it alone.

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  60. Lee - so true! I don't know how anyone does any of this alone! It's so much better being part of a crit team! :)

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  61. So true, Maria, thankfully. :)

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  62. Hi, Tricia, yes writing can be a solitary occupation, but having a team you can trust to back you up is priceless.

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  63. You did them a good deed, Stephen and I hope they appreciated the time and effort you put into their work.

    Thanks for dropping by. :)

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  64. Well done, Lee! My CP won't let me get away with anything. And, I have to admit, because I know how well she can write, I don't let her slack off either.

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  65. Oh, I do like the idea of skyping for critiquing. I hadn't thought of that.

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  66. Lynda - I haven't done that either. We have our family in town so I actually haven't used Skype at all. But my crit buddies are out of town so it would be great :)

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  67. It's a fabulous tool, Lynda and Jemi. I highly recommend it!

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  68. Sandy - I'll have to give it a shot!

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